Archive for the Sweet & Sour Cinema exclusive flim review Category

John Woo’s “Reign of Assassins” (剑雨) – featured reviews, including this blog’s exclusive [Film Business Asia / Sweet & Sour Cinema]

Posted in John Woo 吴宇森, Sweet & Sour Cinema, Sweet & Sour Cinema exclusive flim review on October 7, 2010 by Zuo Shou / 左手

“A tip-top cast, well-crafted script and punchy action capture the classic essence of the swordplay genre…”  Rated 9 out of 10 – Derek Elley, Film Business Asia

UPDATE  10/7/2010:  Found another good review from China Daily, “‘Assassins’ gives martial arts fresh face“; however I find it contains some information that could be considered spoilers and a good deal of writing errors, so I’ll just provide that review’s link and blurb here…

Born a decade after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,  [swordplay] thriller “Reign of Assassins” – co-directed by John Woo and Su Chao-pin – ushers in a new era of the… genre.

Almost all top Chinese directors joined in the wave of period martial arts dramas after Crouching Tiger won global plaudits, but few of the films reached the level of “Assassins”, which boasts a solid story, an original perspective on martial arts and amazing imagination…  – Liu Wei (China Daily)

UPDATE II – 11/29/2010 I caught the film for a second time before it exited the theatres.   Some more persnickety critics may disagree, but this one is a must-see for martial arts film fans.  The central action sequence which coincides with the film’s major plot twist / revelation is one of the greatest swordplay action sequences of all time, IMHO.


“Reign of Assassins” Sweet & Sour Cinema review

by Zuo Shou 左手

Finally —  for the first time since this blog was established  —  I saw an English-subtitled film in a Chinese cinema, and can do a proper review.  And luckily it was a high-quality action film that I was fully understanding and enjoying!

I was keeping an eye on this film as it was preparing for release.  The fact that is was being promoted as “(Co-)Directed by John Woo” brought high expectations.  However, in the trailers I was not seeing the Woo “trademark” cinematic style.  Furthermore, the lead casting of Michelle Yeoh had me a little underwhelmed; I thought maybe she was getting on a bit in years to anchor an martial arts pic, and other cast members weren’t attracting me much.  After the film was released, it was getting ‘ok’ reviews from the public and what’s more didn’t exactly seem to be attracting the local theatres’ filmgoers in throngs.

I was going to let it go until I saw the strongly positive review (below) in Film Business Asia, and I realized I was possibly overlooking something special.  So I checked the film out, and I was so glad I did.

The FBA review below pretty much says what needs to be said.  An early sequence where the two leads do a slow courtship does take its time to set things up and tested my patience a bit, but when things get cranking, it’s undeniably gripping and exciting, with considerable dramatic heft.  The action ranges from good to excellent, and actually the flow and speed of it is such that it makes multiple viewings desirable in order to savor the densely-packed action scenes.

The mark of John Woo doesn’t seem to be so much in the direction (he is variably credited in different roles on the production, depending on the release location); I think he was producing and probably enhancing the action scenes.  I think his mark can be detected in a kind of broad human touch which grounds the overall drama  — said drama becoming a bit extreme at times,  although enjoyably so, with some astoundingly “out-there” plot points.

I found the film’s audience reaction very interesting, and indicative of the movie’s quality.  As the plot thickenened the audience members reactions and whispers to each other demarked their becoming palpably more entranced and engaged in trying to figure out the puzzles, secrets and mysterious shifting alliances on the screen.

It’s the best swordplay film since “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”.


Film Business Asia review (EXCERPT)

by Derek Elley

3 September  2010

Reign of Assassins (剑雨) – Rated 9 out of 10

Hong Kong/China/Taiwan
Costume martial arts drama
Directed by Su Chao-pin; co-directed by John Woo

A tip-top cast, well-crafted script and punchy action capture the classic essence of the swordplay genre…


It’s been a long time since a movie has captured the essence of the costume martial arts genre as well as Reign of Assassins (剑雨).  Without heavy resort to visual effects, and without going too far down any one stylistic road, the film gives new life to a genre that’s been pulled every which way in the past 20 years in search of new thrills.  The biggest compliment that can be paid to the movie is that it’s just like opening and reading a classic swordplay novel, but also seems absolutely of its era and with its own identity, with no sense of being a retro-flavoured tribute…

FBA review article link here

HK action thriller “The Stool Pigeon” (线人) with Nick Tse, directed by Dante Lam – Final trailer and 2 English reviews, including this blog’s exclusive [ / Sweet & Sour Cinema / Sweet & Sour Cinema Exclusive Film Review]

Posted in Hong Kong, Nicholas Tse 谢霆锋, Sweet & Sour Cinema, Sweet & Sour Cinema exclusive flim review on September 7, 2010 by Zuo Shou / 左手

"The Stool Pigeon" / 《线人》poster (

  • LINK TO TRAILER FOR “THE STOOL PIGEON” HERE.  It doesn’t have English subtitles, but the action excitement is a universal language.
From the CRIEnglish webpage containing the trailer:
Action thriller “The Stool Pigeon,” which opens in theaters on August 24th, released its final trailer in order to catch audiences’ attention. Sina. com reports.

The trailer starts with [scene clips from] director Dante Lam’s last film “Beast Stalker” (《Zheng Ren》, 2008).  It [the new film] features many fierce shootouts and car racing scenes and also the first screen kiss between Taiwan actress Guey Lun-mei and Hong Kong heartthrob Nicholas Tse.

To everyone’s surprise, the ending of the film is also included in the trailer, but it will take the viewer some time to find it.


By CRI reporter Yang Liu

In a recent talk, Hong Kong filmmaker Derek Yee shared his experience about how to deal with Mainland film examiners.  As for advice when shooting action films, he concluded that directors had better use a panoramic view to shoot violent scenes.

His fellow Hong Kong director Dante Lam’s latest action film “The Stool Pigeon” shattered [this suggestion].

The…Hong Kong cops and gangsters film “The Stool Pigeon” was screened for the press in Beijing recently, and [despite scenes of intense mayhem] the film had passed the Mainland examiners and would be presented in its original form without any cuts.

In this film, the director prefers to be more realistic when expressing his aesthetics of violence.  When a stool pigeon is stabbed by a group of gangsters, the director zooms in to capture the facial expression of the stool pigeon.  While an informer is escaping, Dante Lam cuts the sound and adds light music to augment the actor’s concentration.

For female audience members, some of the violent scenes may be tough to swallow; but rest assured most men will enjoy the action.

One critic said the film wiped away the recent years of love stories, as it recalls the classic gang themes from Hong Kong crime films.  There are definitely a few violent scenes which stimulate the senses and gets the adrenalin flowing.

Meanwhile, Lam has made a subversive change to the cast.  Although the film is made by the same team that produced the action film, “The Beast Stalker,” Nick Cheung, who won Best Actor at the Hong Kong Film Awards for his role as the kidnapper in that film, plays a cop in this one.  And the sergeant Nicholas Tse from “The Beast Stalker” now portrays a recently released convict who becomes an informer for Cheung.

This is a big break for Tse, and his performance will provide him with a good chance to win Best Actor at the Hong Kong Film Awards next year.

This role reversal is also seen with Kwai Lun-Mei and Lu Yi, whose girl-next-door and “sunny boy” images have already impressed mainland audiences. Kwai plays a gang member and girlfriend of the gang’s big brother Lu Yi.

These changes within the film and the actors may not reform the current downturn situation of Hong Kong films, but at least it’s a refreshing break.


by Zuo Shou (左手)
September 2010
I’m limited in my review capabilities, since I saw a non-English-subtitled screening.   There were portions of the plot that I did not fully grasp.  However…
Dante Lam is one of my favorite working Hong Kong directors.   A real pro, he doesn’t always score high with me; but in the case of “The Stool Pigeon” he does  —  with a predominantly authentic-feeling, and authentically thrilling, cops & robbers film.
This is a heavily-mined genre in HK so to make it work and work well is highly laudable.   The device that puts its over is probably the fact that star and matinee idol Nicholas Tse is playing against type as a the titular character, a somewhat grungy ex-con.
There’s plenty of excitement for action fans.   A desperate chase which  turns into a running battle of brutal hand-to-hand combat showcases Dante Lam’s capacity for action set-pieces that are deceptively simple yet devastating.  It is worth noting, as the above reviewer does, that this film’s violent scenes passed the mainland censors completely; which itself illustrates the  dynamics between ultraviolence and restraint which Lam skillfully utilizes.
Any film which rejuvenates the often-tired Hong Kong cops vs. gangs genre is worthy of praise, and I walked out of “The Stool Pigeon” feeling invigorated thanks to Dante Lam’s expert direction and some fresh casting choices.  If this genre appeals to you, I expect you’ll enjoy it.